Being successful in life usually means strong communication skills. If you can't be understood, you are unable to get your desires met. This extends to travel as well. Need a bathroom? Beverage? Food? You need to be able to communicate. Well, when you travel, you either learn another language or you do what I do and you install Google Translate on your phone. Online or Offline, it's always a useful app that I like to keep in my Backpack of Apps.
Offline Mode in Google Translate
Google Translate showing you how big the language pack will be (as you can see they are pretty small)
This right here is probably the main reason that I use google translate at all. I think we can all agree that a prepared traveler is a happy traveler. For me, that usually means that I assume that no matter where I am going I won't have Internet access. Places like Thailand have surprisingly good coverage, but when you get into the jungles it's a whole different story. Buying a phrase book of the local language is a great idea before you leave, but downloading the desired language on Google Translate should be the next thing you do after that. Keep in mind however that it is not perfect, and you will probably need to point to your phone translation which can get a little tricky sometimes because not every country in the world is as literate as the United States. When Google Translate is connected to the internet, it takes whatever text you typed, the audio clip you recorded, or image you scanned and it puts it through its own database which is huge. It understands things like context and uses many different examples of a translation to understand what you are trying to say. When you are offline, it has a simple text dictionary that you can access. Obviously, this is not as broad as it's connected services, but it works fairly well if you can find someone willing to peek at your phone.
Written Translation in Google Translate
Google Translate's primary form of input if you are not connected to the Internet. For the most part, this works very well. One of my trips to Japan included me getting somewhat lost taking public transportation. Finding someone who can speak English can sometimes be difficult there, but the app helped tremendously and allowed us to find one of the most amazing places to eat you could ever imagine. It was a little hole in the wall restaurant, which we arrived at tired and hungry, and just a little bit cranky. We could not believe how good the ramen was there. Thanks to Google Translate, we were able to figure out what to do and get on our way to our Airbnb.
Audio Translation in Google Translate
Google translate has an amazing speaking mode. When you choose both options at the bottom it allows anyone to speak in either of the languages you have selected and it will attempt to provide live interpretation of what you are saying. We tried it out in France for a simple conversation with a friend and it worked marvelously. The nice thing about France, however, is that if you are using T-mobile as your cell phone provider with one of their unlimited service options, your data and texts work for free there. It really makes traveling easy. However, even in places where there is no international data available, many times there is free Wifi if you ask around. Use the writing option on your phone until you get on wifi, then you can use your voice.
Picture Translation in Google Translate
Google Translate Scanning Image
After you scan the photo, google will highlight the sections that can be selected for translation
You can even select phrases and have them translated, however sometimes things get lost in translation
Again, this is one of those things you need a data connection for but is ridiculously handy if you have it. Many times, we rent a small moped or motorcycle and ride until there is no one else around. Sometimes, when we visit historical objects, they don't always have translations on them. Taking a photo of them using the google photos app will allow you to touch and drag your finger on the text in the direction you want to read it. It will then translate it there for you. It's an amazing feature and really makes traveling a breeze, even when you rent your own car and need to check what certain signs mean!
Saved Phrases in Google Translate
One of the things you can do is save your more often used phrases. This will allow you to access them quickly. If you really want to get ahead, go online and find a good list of phrases online and manually enter them and save them into your list. That way you have all your translations in one place and don't have to fumble for a saved screenshot or website. It will even speak the phrase out loud for you if you are connected.
Well, this covers the main points of using the Google Translate app. I consider this an essential app to have loaded on your phone. You should add "download the local language of the destination you are visiting" to your checklist of things to do before you visit a new country. The next item on that list should be to download an offline map. I wrote a blog post about my favorite offline map here. With that my friends, I am off. I hope that you get a chance to travel and use this app to get lost, and then find yourself!